Germany Is Attracting Mass Amounts of American Students. Here’s Why.

Of all the countries in the world, which is the most favored for higher studies for US students (apart from the US and UK)?

Surprisingly, it is Germany.

Currently close to 5000 US students are pursuing Master’s degrees in Germany in wide ranging streams like Engineering, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Law, Social Sciences, Languages and Cultural Studies.

Ranked third in a HSBC Survey report on the Value of Education, behind the US and the UK, prospective students feel it is the destination for a very affordable higher education.

And just how affordable is it to study in Germany?

One would be surprised that at a time when neighbor UK has more than doubled tuition costs and student grants are barely sufficient to amount for anything because of galloping inflation, and when rising costs of higher education make it extremely difficult for the average student to even dream of studying further, Germany offers free higher education and this applies not only to domestic students, but also to International students.

The Federal Education Minister Johanna Wanka is laying out the red carpet to students from all over the world saying:


“We want to set an example with these changes and show people with knowledge and experience that they are welcome in Germany.”


Ranking High With Both Students & Institutions

Is it any wonder then that students from all over, not just the U.S. are flocking to Germany? Higher education with no hidden costs apart from a small administrative fee of US$ 160 -270 is hard to beat. And while high living costs are a deterrent in the Nordic countries, Germany’s major cities, Munich and Berlin are known as two of the most affordable cities to study in, according to the findings of the QS Best Student Cities.

The craze for German higher education might also be due to the fact that the German economy is very strong and the education system gets highest priority in terms of government funding. German Universities rank high in the QS World University rankings – in 2015, almost 40 Universities were featured in the top listings.

Germany has also increased benefits and subsidies substantially, in order to cover living costs, rent and child benefits. Students, both domestic and International, are now able to work and earn and yet still be eligible for Government benefits.

How do the Universities do this?

The tuition fee for Higher education was completely abolished in 2014, making German Universities very attractive.

How is this even possible? The Federal Government has assumed responsibility for the funding of all University grants and loans throughout the country and offers free Higher education at all its Universities. Germany has an edge over its European counterparts in terms of funding – a whopping 80% of its budget requirements are met by government funding. And this is apart from external research funding which is also readily available.

The Germans want to attract the best possible talent to study in their universities. The Federal Ministry for Education and Research funded the German Excellence Initiative in which they pumped in resources to make some Universities equal to the best in the world. And the fact that as many as 12 German Universities featured in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings proves that they are on the right track.

Ground Reality In The 1990s

Just rewind a decade and a half back and the scenario was quite different in Germany. Education was a State responsibility and each state had different policies and curriculum framework, making it very difficult for lateral movement between states, let alone attract international students. The three-tiered secondary school system was confusing and put students into narrow paths to limited progress. Germany was complacent with its achievements and yet prided itself on its literary heritage and strong economy.

What then prompted change? It well could be the appallingly low PISA scores in the year 2000 which jolted the country out of its stupor and led to debates on the need for educational reform.

Change Is The Only Constant

The winds of change soon started blowing across Germany and far reaching reforms took place in the area of school and higher education.

With reforms starting right at the bottom, the Government mulled over abolition of the Sate controlled, three-tier high school system which was an exercise in confusion and devised and adopted a more easy to understand, two-way model in all states and increased the years a child spends in Primary school . Efforts were on to make Education a federal responsibility instead of a State-controlled one.

But it is not only German students who are the beneficiaries of these reforms. International students have a slew of benefits too, making Germany one of the most preferred destinations for Higher education.

Germany enthusiastically participated in the Bologna Process, the European study reform movement that aimed primarily to create a common European Higher Education Area, in order to enable mobility of students and teachers internationally, and to mutually recognize exams and grades across member countries.

Faster PHD’s (And In English, Too)

Interestingly, almost all German study programs terminate either in a Bachelors or a Master’s degree. But there are still a handful of doctors being turned out.

2010 saw 4000 International students graduate from German Doctoral programs, and this is because of specialized graduate institutions. Not only is the study interdisciplinary and structured, it is also much faster to complete. While a PhD in the US could take up to nine years to complete, in Germany, a student could complete it in three to four years.

All this in English too. Many German Universities have increased English courses in many fields of study, giving international students a wide range to choose from. This change to English as a medium of instruction can also be traced to the Bologna Awards, which made it possible for European students to travel and study in any country in Europe. This movement led to adoption of English as a common language. In some universities, especially in technical courses, anywhere between 15 to 20% of students are foreigners.

What’s in it for Germany?

With one of the strongest economies in Europe, Germany realizes that if it is to remain strong, it has to strengthen its human resource quotient. Low population growth is its bane and its needs people to rev up its economy. Funding for foreign students has been increased making it much more attractive. The country’s hope is that most of these talented international students will become too fond of Germany to leave, and stick around after graduation to work and invest in the country with all their innovative and creative ideas.

The aim is to attract the best of international students to opt for a German university instead of considering the biggies like Stanford or Harvard. And, so far, it appears to be working.

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Shanti is a seasoned educationist who has been a front runner in the educational renaissance in India. An avid traveler, proverbial bookworm, and an extreme foodie, she writes passionately about all that is wonderful with the world.